Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Boil, boil, toil and trouble

Riding to UCSB along the Obern Trail—especially on my electric bike—is usually a relaxing and centering commute. Rabbits and squirrels run along the trail, and the area along Atascadero Creek, past San Jose Creek, Goleta Slough and the beach is home to blue herons, egrets, coots, mallards, kingfishers, redwing blackbirds, and dozens of other species... this morning I even saw a robin. Unusual for this area.

Unfortunately, that's not all I saw.

In fact, I heard it before I saw it, on the bridge over San Jose Creek. Hundreds of silver fish bubbling to the surface, writhing and dying.
[June 15 edit: I thought the link below would make clear that I found this picture online. I didn't take it myself. I didn't have a camera with me. The picture above was not taken at San Jose Creek, but a similar phenomenon elsewhere, with small fish dying in large numbers.]

When I got to my office, I started making calls. I'm happy to report that our government is still funding answering machines. Lots of 'em. I called the direct line to Goleta Beach Park, the general line for SB Parks, as well as three separate numbers for California Fish and Game before I reached a helpful dispatcher in Sacramento, who may have better luck than I had in contacting our local game warden.

I also called the Goleta Sanitary District, since their plant is right there. They were responsive to my concerns (thanks, Jeff), and also referred me to Environmental Health Services, where Rick Muirfield (Sorry, guessing at the spelling) took the time to listen, confirm details, and send an agent to check it out. So, I don't feel too much like woohooing about this whole situation, but it is Wednesday, so I dedicate this Who to Woohoo Wednesday to Rick, with sincere thanks.

Massive die-offs like this are called "fish kills." They are most often caused by a lack of oxygen in the water, which is most often caused by rapid algae growth, which is most often caused by excessive proteins in the water, which is most often caused by agricultural run-off, including synthetic fertilizers used in residential landscaping.

Fortunately, factory farms aren't a problem here, but consider where I found the picture above yet another reason to avoid those big-ag eggs.


Pierhead said...

I understand your frustration into reaching the right person in the DFG.

Here are two numbers that can be used to contact the DFG's Office of Emergency Response in the future:

1-800-852-7550 and 1-800-424-8802. I've already contacted the first number and filed a report based on your observations. Report #07-3571. They will forward it for investigation. You might call them and leave your own phone # for callback since you saw it firsthand.

I did speak with someone who walks the beach east of the slough and he said there were no dead fish on the beach - only in the slough. I also walked the area and all but one smelt had washed out on the incoming tide. I saved it for DFG if they want it.

I've also left word for the local DFG warden Jason Krause.

Queen Whackamole said...

You're right, Pierhead. They're smelt. Thank you for this comment. I just posted a little update. Apparently this happens every few years--smelt swim in during high tide and get "selected out" (in Mr. Brommett's terms)...

I appreciate having the information.

Ben Pitterle said...

Every month, Santa Barbara Channelkeeper's Stream Team samples the water at the Goleta Slough bike path bridge. Our last sampling event took place on June 14th. At this time, the amount of dissolved oxygen in the water was very low (2.85 mg/l). Very generally speaking, fish usually start to have problems at concentrations lower than 5mg/l. Below 3mg/l is usually letahal. As stated in previous posts, excessive nutrient pollution (nitrogen and phosphorus largley from urban and agricultural runoff containing fertilizers) cause large algae blooms every year in Goleta Slough creeks. As the algae starts to decay, the decomposition processes consume oxygen from the water. Although our data shows that Goleta Slough creeks have nutrient and algae problems, these dissolved oxygen levels sre unusually low.

To learn more about our volunteer monitoring program, check out Email if you'd like to volunteer.

PelicanLife said...

Great reporting, you guys!

With all the development going on around here, proposed and actual, in the watersheds of both Goleta and SB, good to know that people have their eyes open.

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Robert said...

FYI, ther eare 37 million people in calfornia. There are only abut 130 patrolling game wardens. each covers about 1,800 square miles. They are the least paid police officer. All have B.S. degrees or Masters in sciences. They do the job not for the money because on average they make about $40K but for the love of the natural environment. Arnold keeps cutting their budget. They haveto pay for the upkeep of their trucks. They dont get paid Overtime. They have no backup when the going gets tough. they all operate out of their houses. DFG wardens are 3 times more likely to get killed on the job than CHP cops. SO., please give them a break. Arnold is cutting their budget every year. Arnold does not care for protecting the environment. Its all lip service.